16 September 2013
The ‘Scalpel Blade Paintings’ are amongst the newest series of works in Hirst's practice. Thousands of variously shaped scalpel blades are positioned on a canvas in spectacular, mandala-like patterns. Whilst some of the works remain starkly monochrome, others have intermittent areas of coloured gloss paint layered in between the blades.
The paintings reference two of Hirst’s most iconic earlier series. Their geometric patterns recall the ‘Kaleidoscope’ series which Hirst began in 2001, made using thousands of individual, different coloured, butterfly wings. In their use of surgical instruments, however, Hirst returns to one of his most recognisable themes: medicine and its inevitable futility in the face of our mortality. The precision-tooled surgical instruments were first used by Hirst in his early 90’s instrument cabinets (see ‘Still’ (1994) and ‘Naked’ (1994)), in which thousands of the objects are arranged in stainless steel cabinets in a formal and aesthetically pleasing manner. They are described by the artist as “phenomenal objects because they have to have this confidence and this belief. They are the best quality. They are brilliantly designed, for all the right reasons.” With the ‘Scalpel Blade Paintings’ paintings, their inability to eventually arrest decay is further highlighted by their relegation to being merely decorative. As the artist explains, the blades: “tap into, in an awkward way, those [universal] fears [...] they make you think about the end, make you think about the fragility of your flesh. Once you treat something so dark, decoratively, you've always got that darkness inherent in it whatever it is, I could do a portrait of Mickey Mouse in scalpel blades and it's always going to make you think, we're here for a good time, not a long time.”